The Dallas Stars found themselves at the bottom of the standings early after a 1-7-1 record in their first nine games. History has told us that losing eight of your first nine games usually doesn’t bode well with playing hockey in late April. Players were publicly showing frustration, coaches were trying different practice tactics and rumors of head coach Jim Montgomery getting the boot were just starting to heat up. After a 4-2 loss in Pittsburgh, many fans were already posting highlights of current top prospect Alexis Lafrenière and waving the white flag on the season. But all of that was soon to turn.
The Stars played the Philadelphia Flyers the next night on Oct. 19, winning 4-1 and they haven’t looked back since. They have now won seven of their last eight games, a record that has catapulted them back into the middle of the Central Division. To the eye, they are playing a much faster and creative game by attacking the neutral zone rather than playing a more conservative style. The underlying numbers tell us what is going right with the Stars right now.
Absolute Stellar Defense
By all accounts, a good way to describe the Stars this season is “dull” which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is the type of game they identified with last year that propelled them into the postseason and helped them get to game seven of the second round of the playoffs. They play a really tight defensive game and choose quality over quantity when it comes to their offensive chances. Through eight games they have only allowed six goals at 5v5 making it very difficult for teams to generate offense if not on the man-advantage.
Here is how the Stars rank defensively per hour compared to the league in their last eight games: (Oct. 19 – Nov. 6)
- Goals Against – 1st
- Expected Goals Against – 6th
- High Danger Chances Against – 4th
- Save Percentage – 1st
- High Danger Save Percentage – 4th
- Shots Against – 11th
- Shot Attempts Against – 23rd
The Stars are starting to again get the goaltending that they had last year which is a very good sign. Ben Bishop was a Vezina finalist last year and the goalie tandem of himself and Anton Khudobin were close calls for the Jennings Trophy.
In front of them, the Stars defense is playing great. As you can see from the shot attempts numbers, they allow a lot of shots but do a great job of keeping them out of high danger areas. This was the exact scenario the Stars had last year as well. When you pair good-to-great goaltending with a stingy defense in front of them, good things likely come from it and we are seeing that with the Stars now.
The Kids Are Alright
One of the biggest storylines coming into the season was that the Stars finally had a second line. They acquired Joe Pavelski and hoped that youngsters Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov would take the next step in becoming scoring threats in the NHL. Through these eight games we have started to see this materialize and oh, is it beautiful.
Hintz has started where he left off last year by leading the team in goals and tied with Tyler Seguin in points with 11. His seven 5v5 goals are tied for third in the entire NHL. Gurianov has also started to take off. He currently leads the league in penalties drawn per hour and has been a big factor for getting the team on the man-advantage. His four goals are tied for third on the team despite missing four games.
Miro Heiskanen is also one of the youngsters that just seems to constantly get better. We are now at the point where Heiskanen is the Stars’ number one defenseman and for good reason. He is averaging 24:55 a night which leads the team and plays on both the power play and penalty kill. His nine points in 17 games is good for fourth on the team.
During this eight-game stint, Heiskanen has been on the ice for 10 of the team’s 16 goals scored at even-strength. The next closest is six. His shot and goal share during this time frame is 52% and 71%, respectively. He also owns 60.5% of the high-danger chances when on the ice. A lot of his value is really only tracked privately or seen through the eye test.
His stick checks in all zones are always noticeable and it seems like every game there’s one or two instances where a perfectly placed stick breaks up a rush or high danger chance. His speed on the rush and backcheck is fast enough to keep up with anyone in the league which makes for a great show, especially when the Edmonton Oilers line up against him. They’ve got a pretty fast guy over there that leads to some fun races.
All-in-all, things are definitely starting to look up for the guys in victory green. They’ve always had the roster to become a legitimate cup-contending team but during that 1-7-1 record, things just were not clicking. The Stars have since started scoring more which was a real issue in their early drought. By playing more aggressive on the forecheck and more skilled on their entries, they’ve seen their scoring chances and goal-scoring shoot up. All of this, paired with an improved powerplay that started the season just 3-for-32, is starting to show the hockey world that the Stars might not be dead after all.